Mad Men graced the televisions and touched the hearts of millions of viewers when it aired in 2007. Starring Jon Hamm and boasting a cast of both familiar and new faces, the show depicts the captivating day-to-day of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, a fictional advertising agency in 1960s Manhattan. The characters range from the high-powered, charming, and womanizing Don Draper; to the many women that make the successful agency tick. Critics have hailed the series for its largely accurate depiction of an exploding advertising industry and for its portrayal of this slice of society. As the title might suggest, the men of Mad Men are paramount to the plot yet the women on the show play equally pivotal roles. The many women of Mad Men have bestowed upon me pearls of wisdom as precious as those neatly strung around their necks. These pearls transcend time, reminding me that heartbreak and insecurity aren’t generation-specific hardships and that confidence is a timeless accessory.
You Determine Your Own Self-Worth.
The gorgeous yet painfully aimless Betty Draper is Don’s wife and the mother of his three children. Betty satisfies the typical stereotype of a ‘60s housewife. She married young, she has a career in homemaking, and she’s virtually powerless to the whim of her husband. From a superficial standpoint, Betty is perfect; her natural beauty is only amplified by cosmetics, she dresses impeccably, and she’s devoted to her handsome husband. Upon further speculation, it’s clear that Betty harbors a host of insecurities resulting from Don’s womanizing behavior and her own past. These insecurities are manifested in that she’s obsessed with perfecting her own physical appearance and garnering the attention she receives as a result. Betty’s own fixation on her looks is symptomatic of a larger societal issue that has persisted long past the 1960s. She represents the pervasive notion among women that we need male attention to feel validated. Betty is undeniably gorgeous, yet misery is written all over her face and this profound sadness is as obvious to the audience as her natural beauty. If you need to hear that you’re beautiful and important from a man, it will never be loud enough or carry as much meaning as you wish it did. Betty teaches us that if we determine our self-worth based on a man’s assessment, we will never be fully satisfied with the result. We determine our own self-worth and our happiness inevitably stems from it.
Your Choices are Yours, So Own Them.
Joan Holloway and Peggy Olson both work at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce but in different capacities that yield separate consequences. With finesse, Joan makes sure that the operation runs efficiently as office manager. She’s good at what she does and she knows it—plain and simple. That being said, Joan is often reminded that in many ways, she is little more than a “glorified secretary”. When I first considered her professionally, I wondered why Joan would be so content with what many would regard as a stagnant career. In comparison to Peggy, who began her work at the agency as Don Draper’s secretary but proved herself fit for a position as copywriter, Joan did not initially appear ambitious but rather content with the status quo. I then considered Peggy: a woman determined to put in the hard work required to climb the corporate ladder yet one that lacks Joan’s admirable self-assurance. So, who got it right? Well, both of them. These women chose career paths that suited their individual personalities and ambitions. Joan is happy to sit stationary on her throne as Queen Bee, while Peggy prefers to challenge her capacity sometimes at the expense of her self-confidence in an effort to make professional gains. As time wears on, it becomes evident that these are personal choices that Joan and Peggy take responsibility for despite the inevitable pitfalls. We’re reminded that our decisions, professional or personal, are ours and that we must own them because in the end, they define us.
Mad Men is a perceptive and well-executed depiction of an era and an industry so often glamorized and romanticized. When the cigarette smoke settles and the last drop martini is sipped, we’re left with a group of characters that exhibit fears and doubts, strengths and triumphs that know no particular era. You know as well as I do that Betty Drapers traipse across campus on the day-to-day and that you’ve probably found yourself in a Joan vs. Peggy-esque dilemma. The women of Mad Men are a boundless study on the feminine psyche and the human condition as a whole. These few pearls I’ve mentioned represent only a fraction of the wisdom that can be drawn from their experiences. Yet should you choose to never watch a single episode of Mad Men, remember this above all: confidence never goes out of style.